Emily Belle Freeman



Seven Guiding Principles

The other day a man stopped me as I was walking through a parking lot.  He asked about Garett, saw that we were going to the draft in Philadelphia, wanted to offer his congratulations.  Then he said, “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I replied.

“We are doing something similar to you,” he said, “brought some kids into our home, trying to raise them right.  I see you where you are now, and it’s a great story.  But I have to ask you something,” he looked at me, serious now, the smile gone from his face, “I hope you don’t mind if I ask you this,” his eyes squinted in question, and then he continued, “Was it hard?  Please say it was hard.”

I couldn’t stop the tears from gathering in my eyes as my mind flashed back over those beginning years.  “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”  I told him.  I didn’t have to explain why.  He knew.  He already knew. 

One of the things I have loved most about sharing Garett’s story is meeting the thousands of you who are doing the same thing we did.  In your places.  With your people.  Our story is not unique.  Every day, somewhere around the world, there is someone who opens their door and their home to provide a safe house, a refuge, simply to offer love.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks thinking about the guiding principles that have governed our lives over these years.  I wondered if they might be helpful to some of you who are walking this path, so I decided to share them here.  For those of you who are in the trenches, it would be awesome if you would share your tips also.  We might all be at a different place in the journey, but it shouldn’t stop us from shouting out encouragement to each other along the way. 

7 Guiding Principles We Held On to While Raising a Troubled Boy.


Hands down this was the most crucial step in our journey.  Setting boundaries that were attainable, clear, and non-flexible.  The important thing here is not to set too many boundaries.  Generally, a piece of property has four boundary lines.  They are clearly marked, which makes them simple to define.  When Garett moved in we set three.  The three things I knew would keep him safe:  Go to church, pay your tithing, give up contact with ALL of your old friends.  (There was also an unstated but clear boundary hovering there with all the rest.  We don’t allow drugs in our home.  End of Story.)  They weren’t easy, but they were clear.  The consequence for breaking them was also clear:  There will be no warnings, if you can’t live up to them we will help you find somewhere else to live. 

We have had several other boys live in our home.  Some have decided to follow these boundaries and we have seen their lives change dramatically for the better.  Others have decided not to.  They tried for a time, but weren’t ready to make that kind of commitment, so they found other places to live.  It’s OK to set boundaries, and it’s OK for people to decide that those boundaries aren’t right for them.  They will come back when they are ready.


For a teenager, this might be the hardest part of life to figure out.  We have always asked our kids to try to balance equal time in these areas:  Friends, homework, church, one sport, computer-TV-social media time, and work.  Our goal is to balance out equal time within a week period.  It’s hard, but doable.  Generally, we have noticed that if one of our children starts to go downhill it is because they have lost balance in one area of their life.


Behavior changes through understanding.  This is something I firmly believe.  You can’t change a behavior until you have a complete understanding of the root of that behavior.  Why is it happening?  What is the trigger?  I have found that there is usually an emotional cause behind every behavior that needs to be changed.  Don’t focus on the behavior, spend your time figuring out what is behind the behavior and change that.  Here is an important tip:  A professional counselor will most likely be better at finding the root of the problem.  Don’t be afraid to get one involved.


As passionate as I am about those 4 simple inflexible boundaries, I am also passionate about being willing to bend in the areas where you can.  Here is an example, we go to bed around 10:30pm here.  We always have.  My kids like to.  They can get ready for bed in ten minutes or less.  Then the entire house is quiet.  When Garett moved in it quickly became apparent it takes him a full hour to get ready for bed.  He has a whole routine.  If it gets disrupted in any way he can’t fall asleep.  If he starts the routine at 9:30pm he misses out on all of the late night fun we are having that last hour.  So, when he came we realized we would have to bend.  The whole house settled at 10:30, except Garett…who then started his nightly ritual.  If it was a weekend, then it started at 11:30pm.  If we came home late from a fun night, it started at 1:30am.  For one full hour.  Greg and I got used to falling asleep listening to Garett’s winding down rituals.  It required bending from us, but gave Garett what he needed to succeed.  Where can you bend?


This means exactly what it says.  Be present.  When Garett first moved in either Greg or I was with him 24 hours a day for the first nine months.  It was like having a newborn.  He couldn’t shake us.  We became for him a parent, a friend, a workout partner, a co-worker, a shopping buddy.  Whatever he needed, that’s what we were.  It’s how we kept him safe in the transition.  Slowly he started to replace us with healthy friends, healthy places, healthy activities.  But in the beginning it was just us.  It required a lot from us.  Sure, a lot of time.  But there was more–– we had to be fun we when we were playing the role of a friend, we had to teach responsibility when we were playing the role of an employer, and we had to be firm when we were playing the role of a parent.  Invest the time.  It will be worth it.  But even more importantly, invest the love.  It will be powerful.


In the end, God will do the most work.  He knows where the child has been, where they are, and where He has in mind for them to go.   Get out of the way and let Him do His work.  Ask for His assistance every day, and listen for it to come.  Always listen.  The promptings will come in the very instant you need them, if you are listening.  He will open doors you thought would never open, lead you to places you thought you would never go, and send you answers you didn’t even know to ask for.  Believe me, you can’t do this without God.  Involve your church, your leaders, use your scriptures.  Bring God into this, because in the end it’s not your battle, it’s His.


Every time you look at that kid, believe in what he can become.  Every time.  See the potential.  Discern the good that might be concealed.  Remind him of the great work God has in store for him.  Every.  Single.  Day.  It is the believing that leads to the miraculous. 



I have to end with this.  Just because you have the guiding principles doesn’t mean there won’t be times of disappointment.  There will.  Even moments of devastation.  It comes with the territory.  These principles aren’t meant to make the process perfect, they are meant to guide you through.  At least, that’s what they did for us.  We had moments of disappointment, discouragement, and failure.  And through those moments, we grew.  All of us.  We are all better people because of this journey.  God grew us.  He enlarged our hearts.  He expanded our souls.  Most important, He reminded us that the journey is not about perfection, it is about turning back to Him every time you fall.  That’s what makes a champion.  That’s how you find success.